Protesting: Really Worth the March?
Anyone who watched the NATO news coverage last weekend would have to agree: the Chicago Police Department came out of the whole ordeal looking like shining stars, calmly maintaining composure after being punched and provoked by deodorant-less, mask-donning protestors. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, they warded off angry demonstrators trying to forage across the Chicago River Bridge to claim Michigan Avenue as their own. Day after day they tried, but to no avail. In fact, the NATO weekend came and went with the protestors barely making a dent on the city or on the American public.
But had these protestors made it to the Magnificent Mile to spread their messages, would the outcome have been different? Would more Chicagoans have been influenced by their angry messages and meticulously crafted signs? Would they be able to sway those darned American families who insist on patronizing corporate America by taking their hard-earned cash out of the evil banks just to spend it frivolously on education and mortgages? Would the protestors have prevailed if only they could reach this Chicago population?
And this isn’t because I don’t think that demonstrating free speech is effective in relaying messages to the public or creating a dialogue about important issues. In fact, past demonstrations have achieved remarkable milestones for Americans, especially in efforts to grant equal civil liberties. But this protest held a different charge, lacking in many ways when compared to forerunning demonstrations. How?
- Police Preparedness: This summit was not the first time the United States has hosted a multi-national political event, and Chicago P.D. was able to use this to their advantage. In fact, the 1999 World Trade Organization Meeting in Seattle was a perfect way for the police to refine their tactics by looking at what did and didn’t work when trying to keep protests peaceful. What catches more news coverage: a line of police firmly (but calmly) standing their ground while protestors chant and raise their signs, or rioting anarchists throwing Molotov cocktails? The police just didn’t give the protestors a chance to be violent the entire weekend.
- Disjointed Messages: Unity is dead—nobody’s messages this weekend were coherent. Some folks were marching against corporate greed, others against the institution of higher education (ironically they were students from a state university), and still others whose issues didn’t even warrant protesting (“NO PORK ON MY FORK”…easily solved by just not eating pork). In the end, most protesters were not fighting for any succinct (or rational) cause. And even if they were, their logic was completely disjointed: corporate greed is one thing, but shouting for “a world without work or money” is farfetched and impossible unless you want to live alone in the woods.
- Outdated Tactics: What is the best way to express a desire for the government to assist the hardworking lower and middle classes who can’t seem to make ends meet? Probably not by splurging on $3.00 bottled water and cigarettes and then fighting police officers who, themselves, often fall into the 99%. What would be impressive, however, is if the protestors all banned together to build houses and tutor kids in Chicago’s Southside. Now that’s making a bang. Not only would the protestors gain respect and worldwide news coverage for their causes, but everyone would be so impressed by their efforts to work towards change rather than complain about it, that it would likely make others attempt to better the world as well.
So perhaps protesting in America is just not the most effective way anymore. Perhaps the best way to express frustration for government, foreign policy, education, and environmental issues is to find a group of like-minded thinkers and work towards the cause. Hate that we are still in war? Educate yourself on effective ways to stabilize a country and volunteer to work towards that cause abroad. Wish every American had an equal opportunity to be educated? Volunteer to tutor in low-income neighborhoods and then get involved with state-or nationwide educational policy.
Don’t chant about change, be involved in change. And don’t be afraid to do it in a peaceful and respectable way.